Decisions are a very human investment of attention to a problem, and gut feel--the stream of intuition, impulse, memory, and emotion behind all behavior--is the impetus driving every decision that people make.
Decision management is more of an art than a science. Decision support systems, as discussed in this recent blogpost, deliver actionable intelligence, but it’s the users themselves who determine what is or isn’t actionable, based on a gut feel for the blend of analytics that constitute sufficient grounds for action. Even a scientific management approach, such as automating some decisions and routing others to human exception-handlers (per this recent blogpost) often comes down to a judgment call by enterprise business analysts.
Gut feel is not necessarily mindless and it’s not the same as “flying blind.” Your gut may digest huge amounts of information prior to pulling the trigger on a decision. Much of that information may come from your business intelligence (BI), data warehousing (DW) , and other structured decision support systems. An equal or greater amount may come from myriad other content sources, both internal and external to your enterprise. Still more of it comes from the heads and hearts of other people, conveyed through collaboration, social networking, and other channels. Even more of that intelligence originates in the golden forge of your own mind, deftly intuiting fresh patterns that you may choose to share with others.
Gut feel, like all human aptitudes, is not easy to define, quantify, or cultivate. But, seeing as how it’s the core of decision management, your organization should give greater attention to supporting and extending it through analytics. Indeed, the stakes could not be greater. Without analytics-savvy gut feel to distinguish useful information from distracting noise, your users are at risk of squandering your company’s entire investment in BI and supporting infrastructure. Gut feel delivers assurance that, well-stocked with intelligence and apprised of all relevant options , you, the decision maker, may now confidently take action. Without a sure sense of “enough is enough,” you would scarcely be able to make progress on anything. You would simply spend your days in futility, checking and rechecking reports for some magic stats that will solve all your problems.
You know an organization is suffering from a gut-feel deficit when it displays chronic “analysis paralysis.” Ironically, this is a malady that BI/DW tools may aggravate if they are not delivered into an analytics-savvy corporate culture. What good are the decision-velocity benefits of high-performance DW appliances--enabling more questions to be asked against more information in a shorter period of time—if your people have no idea what are the right questions to ask? And what good are the information quality benefits of a well-architected DW—with its consolidated, conformed, cleansed, current, multidimensional, and deep data pool—if people can be barely cope with the vast glut of it all?
The ROI of high-quality gut feel is in your organization’s ability to realize maximum business impact and agility from your decision support investment. In your effort to cultivate high-quality gut feel, the biggest potential cost may be IT’s need to engage business people in an ongoing process of fitting BI  tools to their particular decision-making styles. The risk of not doing it right is that users may see little practical value in your BI investments, may rarely access the reports you build for them, and may continue to operate just fine without all your fancy-pants analytics.
Cultivating intelligent gut feel may simply be a matter of making people comfortable with analytics as an operational business tool. One of the great advantages of self-service BI, if implemented properly, is that it gives each user the ability to craft reports, dashboards, and other analytics that fit his or her personal decision-making style. Another advantage is that self-service tools, if user-friendly and ubiquitous, may spark a passion for practical analytics throughout your organization.
Self-service BI may not completely eliminate “analysis paralysis” (after all, everybody spins their cognitive wheels now and then). But it will help people narrow the vast BI banquet down to whatever slice their personal gut is capable of digesting.

James also blogs at